The holiday bonus: Unexpected but appreciated

A holiday bonus is appreciated, but employees aren't expecting them.

Story highlights

  • 81 percent of workers think end-of-year rewards are nice, but not expected
  • Instead of using money to motivate employees, publicly acknowledge them for their good attitude
  • Perks like Friday afternoons off in December is another way to show appreciation

Holiday planning has kicked into full gear, as revelers dust off last year's decorations, sort through recipes for the big feast and brainstorm gifts for those hard-to-please family members.

At the office, the winter holidays are on workers' minds as well but often for reasons other than tinsel and eggnog. 'Tis the season for company bonuses, but these days employees aren't holding their breath for that big reward.

According to a recent survey by Parago, a company that provides consumer and corporate incentives, 81 percent of workers think end-of-year rewards are a nice thing to do for employees but should not be expected.

That doesn't mean employees won't appreciate any perks; 79 percent of employees said that receiving an end-of-year reward would mean that they had done a great job and worked hard or that their boss appreciates and/or values them. But workers don't necessarily need a fat check to show the company cares. Eighty-four percent of employees surveyed said $100 or less would meet their expectations for a reward; 55 percent said it would take just $25 to make the holidays brighter.

Money doesn't always motivate

For companies with tighter purse strings, there are other ways to keep workers motivated. "Recent research from Dan Pink on motivation at work shows that financial incentives only work up to a point," says Karlin Sloan, executive coach, CEO of Karlin Sloan & Company and author of "Unfear: Facing Change in an Era of Uncertainty." "People work harder and with more passion when they feel valued and that their work is meaningful."

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Adds Sloan, "A great way to reward people is to publicly recognize them not just for the projects or deliverables they've completed, but for their good attitude, how they impact others -- anything that you want to acknowledge that makes your office a better place to work."

Think outside the gift box

Sloan suggests employers look for fun and unexpected ways to show their appreciation for their team's hard work. Some ideas include giving everyone Friday afternoons off in December or taking the team to the movies on a slower Friday afternoon. Sloan also says that simple gestures can go a long way, including a hand-written message of thanks that highlights how much the employee is valued not only as a worker but as a person.